Oil’s reign is over
By Naoimh Reilly
The oil our world depends on is running out and we need to plan for a future without it. Oil impacts every part of our lives, but the relationship is not a healthy one; we need to break the dependency cycle.
We use it to heat our homes and run factories, it fuels our planes and cars, it’s in medicines and cosmetics and is used to make the plastic that is destroying our planet. It was the cause of many wars, as it brings untold riches to those who control it. Countries that do not have their own oil supply are in a risky position and everyone wants it; regardless of the destruction it causes.
Some of the earliest civilisations used oil when it first bubbled up to the surface. However, it wasn’t until 1859 in the USA, when a new mining technique was used, that demand began to grow. Then, when the motor car was invented in 1885, demand exploded. Everyone wanted this cheap fuel.
In 1908, oil was discovered in an Arab nation, which would eventually be developed to supply 60% of the world’s oil. Oil fueled wars between nations but also literally fueled the tanks and warships that made bigger, more destructive, wars possible. World War One was when the world truly learned the value of oil.
As the West became more and more dependant on oil, Middle Eastern countries began exerting their own power by claiming back much of the profits from their black gold. In 1973, they took this further when they decided to control the political agenda with the power struggle for oil.
After a Western oil embargo, prices quadrupled and economies plummeted. After the Gulf War in the 1990s and the invention of fracking, people began to realise that other forms of fuel would be needed. There is no endless supply of oil and environmental factors have pushed engineers and scientists to discover cleaner alternatives.
Some believe that cars are the key to reducing our dependency on oil. With over one billion oil-spewing cars on the planet, the invention of the electric car has the potential to be a gamechanger. Electric vehicles could destroy the oil industry in a decade, according to experts. Self-driving cars offer another major blow to oil companies. It is believed that when they become widespread they will reduce the personal ownership of cars and people will rely on the rising popularity of ride-sharing transport.
Planes are also slowly beginning to follow suit. JetBlue Airways and Boeing have said they would begin selling hybrid airplanes by 2022.
But, let’s not forget that in less than 70 years, we have nearly destroyed the planet with a product that comes from oil. It’s only recently the world has come to realise the horrors of the over-production and our own reliance on plastic. Plastic only began to be mass produced in the 1950s.
Our oceans are littered with plastic that will never degrade. It’s estimated that this ocean plastic will kill millions of marine animals every year because they are eating microplastics - tiny bits of plastic that have broken up so small, they are difficult to see. They have been found in every ocean on the planet, including the Arctic. In some beaches in Hawaii, almost 15% of the sand is actually microplastic.
The animals that eat plastic can then end up in the food chain, where we are consuming them - and the plastic they have ingested.
The plastic in the sea comes from rubbish that has been dumped on land by people, leading to a worldwide outcry for our over-reliance on plastic to come to an end for the sake of the planet and our future. Many countries are now banning single use plastics and opting for paper straws and glass bottles. But is this enough to undo the damage we have caused in a mere 70 years? Plastic is full of chemicals to varying degrees and these chemicals have to go somewhere. We don’t understand yet the damage that this has done.
Even with good recycling intentions, we can’t keep up. Only a fraction of plastic produced ends up being recycled. Many countries are now banning microbeads from manufacturing; this is great in that corporations and governments are beginning to respond to public opinion.
If we realise now before it’s too late and clean up the plastic in our oceans, we could have a very bright future. The technology is there to help us live a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly life, without the need for oil. If we embrace this and look at the bigger picture, our lives and our future could be greatly enhanced. Could the end of oil now truly be in sight?